Special counsel Robert Mueller now pursuing what Trump knew and when he knew it


Federal investigators are questioning top Trump campaign officials about their Russia contacts to find out exactly what Donald Trump knew about his campaign officials' actions.

As special counsel Robert Mueller and his team interview top Trump campaign officials, their focus is now shifting to the "ultimate question": What did Trump know and when did he know it?

Federal investigators recently questioned Sam Clovis, the co-chairman of Donald Trump's campaign, to determine what Trump knew about his campaign members' contacts with Russian officials in the lead-up to the 2016 election and during the transition period afterwards, Reuters reported Saturday.

NBC News previously reported that Clovis had been interviewed as part of the ongoing probe into Russian interference and potential coordination with the Trump campaign.

It was not known until now, however, that the focus of the interview was to find out the extent of Trump's knowledge about his campaign team's contact with Russian officials.

"The ultimate question Mueller is after is whether candidate Trump and then President-elect Trump knew of the discussions going on with Russia, and who approved or even directed them," one source told Reuters.

Clovis, who holds a senior position in the Trump administration, has been in the spotlight recently because of his relationship with former Trump campaign foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos.

It was recently revealed that Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty last month to lying to federal officials about his contacts with Russia, had notified Clovis in March 2016 of his plans to try to arrange a meeting between then-candidate Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In a series of emails, Papadopoulos told Clovis about his connections to high-ranking Russian officials and said he had met with them to discuss the proposed Trump-Putin meeting.

Clovis responded to Papadopoulos by saying he would "work it through the campaign," and then praised him for his "great work." He also encouraged Papadopoulos to "make the trip, if it is feasible."

The revelation that Clovis knew about Papadopoulos' Russian contacts — as did Stephen Miller, who also took a position as a top White House advisor — casts doubt on the notion that Trump was in the dark about his campaign team's connections to Putin-linked officials.

While Trump has tried desperately to portray Clovis and Papadopoulos as minor figures who barely worked for his campaign, recent reports show that Papadopoulos was tapped to represent the campaign at numerous international forums and meetings. Clovis was his supervisor and served as the Trump campaign's chief policy adviser and national co-chairman.

Trump also gave Clovis a senior position in his administration and nominated him to become the Department of Agriculture's chief scientist, despite the fact that he has no background in science. Clovis withdrew his nomination earlier this month amid increasing scrutiny stemming from the Russia investigation, but said he will continue serving as the White House adviser to the Agriculture Department.

The revelation that investigators are now turning their attention to what Trump knew and when is a major development in the ongoing Russia probe, which looks to be closing in on Trump and his closest allies.

This may explain why Trump is growing increasingly desperate and lashing out at anyone involved with the investigation.

In fact, on Saturday, Trump publicly sided with Putin over the collective assessment of the U.S. intelligence community, calling the Russia probe a "Democratic hit job."

As the investigation reaches his doorstep, Trump is likely to become even more unhinged — giving investigators all the more reason to question him.